Monday, January 31, 2011

A Pair of Storytellers

Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff

A family friend was on the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times last week, along with a fine tribute to her work as a storyteller. She goes into schools and communities teaching people how to tell their own stories and teaching how not to be indifferent. In this age of instant, this is important work.

I was anxious to read the article and immediately clicked on the link, only to be taken to a page explaining that if I did not register with said newspaper, I could not read the article. Okay, thinks me, no problem. I entered my name, the email address I use for this kinda stuff, and my zip code. They asked an age range, and I even answered that, although I wondered why they cared. Then, they asked for my household income.

Excuse me? My what? There was no opt out option, no choice for it’s none of yer damn business. I tried skipping the question and their net-nanny would not let me pass. I erased all the information and exited the page.

I immediately posted a comment advising Jennifer that I would’ve loved to have read the story, and here’s why I didn’t.  Later I checked to see if anyone else had had the same issue. There were a string of “mazel tov” comments, and everyone but me seemed to have accessed the story just fine. But in order to do that, they had to provide a total stranger with a piece of highly personal information. Why on earth would someone do that? Is nothing sacred? 

Had I been in the vicinity of Baltimore, I would’ve picked up the Baltimore Jewish Times at my local newsstand where no one would’ve asked my age or my income. Instead, I now have the article in PDF format, so if you want to read it, let me know and I'll send it along with all of Jennifer's corrections. 

And while we're on the subject of story-tellers, we lost a exceptional witness to history this week when our very dear friend, Henry Oertelt (z"l), passed away on the 66th anniversary of his liberation from Auschwitz.

Henry Oertelt (z"l)
Henry was witness to it all, beginning with Kristallnacht in Berlin right through the DP camps at the end of the war, yet he survived with a firm belief in life, living and bearing witness to the horrors of genocide. He spent his life speaking at schools, churches, and civic organizations, warning them against the complicity of silence. 

Henry survived five  concentration camps, including Aushwitz. He would show you his number if you asked; he thought it was important you should see a real one, not a replica or a movie make-up one. His number, B-11291, was more than evidence he had been there; it was proof he had survived to tell the story.

 His book, Unbroken Chain, is a testament to his tenacity. You should read it.

Wifely person Tip O' The Week
Take a moment to listen to Henry tell his own story as only Henry could:   

Monday, January 24, 2011

Happy Pappy at 90

 On Friday, January 28th, my dad will be 90. 

I happen to look like my dad; thing is, we both look like his grandmother.  This is not necessarily a good thing.

I have inherited some of his skills. I write. I build things. I've managed a physical plant. I have a black sense of humor just like his, and I have embarrassed my children by saying wildly, albeit funny, inappropriate things in public places. That last thing is not necessarily something of which I am proud, but like the Village Idiot at Sturbridge Village, it is the stuff of family legend.

Private Sidney

My dad was a telegrapher in World War II. He was in tank during the Battle of the Bulge and when they took the bridge at Remagen. After the war, he managed to hold on to his key and his oscillator. By first grade, I could spell in English and Morse code. A fine, classical skill.

My dad taught me to shape wood and sand it to a fine finish. We built boats and took them to Salisbury Park where they promptly sank. And we laughed. Oh, how we laughed. 

My dad used to take me surf casting for bluefish at the crack of dawn, armed with no bait other than squashed bread balls. Never caught a damn thing, but that really wasn't the point. It was the joy of standing on the beach with a bunch of other deranged people throwing fishing lines into the Atlantic Ocean. 

My dad taught me to write. I, have, a, pocket, full, of, commas, to, prove, it. If you subscribe to this blog because you like how I say what I say, then thank my dad. I do. Every time I write a sentence, a fragment, or a verse. He also taught me to draw, mix color, and generally be creative.

My dad taught me to foxtrot. This was an important skill because in my day, all we did was bounce up and down, gyrate, and shake various body parts in assorted, seemingly random, directions. Old fashioned dancing came in handy at various social functions, like Happy Pappy Weekend at Skidmore, not to mention my own wedding. I like dancing with my dad...either while standing atop his shoes or stepping on his toes. Not to be left out, he did learn to shake a few body parts, although we always thought he looked really weird doing it.

Zayde holding baby Misha

My dad is a terrific Zayde. He’s been telling the boys terrible jokes since they were born and sent handmade books with tapes narrated by him and Mom, for which he dusted off the ol’ make-up stories and invented new ones. He turned a plain, ol’ RX-7 into the Radish Rocket. 

Misha, Baby David and a Theatre Box!

Zayde with  Baby David the groom

My dad made boys-band marching hats, batman masks, clubhouses complete with a cable TV hookup, would-be rabbit proof fences and gardens with cucumbers and string beans for the guys to pick and eat on the spot.

My dad is the keeper of key words. Just say Brown Bonnet, Lousy Lucy’s, or village idiot and we start snickering. You have to hang around my dad to see a joke beaten into the ground, only to be reincarnated as a gag avatar. We are a family of verbal shorthand and acronyms. Most are attributable to my dad.

Three generatons.

My dad is a great dad. He gives my brother, my kids, and me an unshakable sense of security and continuity. He is always there for us, and was always for my husband…so much so that at the end of his life, my dad was one of very few people Steve asked to see one last time. And my folks came. That made all the difference in the world.  My dad makes all the difference in the world.

My folks

And just to be fair, my mom gets a prize for putting up with him for 68 of those 90 years. Really. It’s a challenge. Key words: New Jersey Rest Stop.

To my dad, there is only one thing to say:  
Happy, happy birthday and B.O.G.C.A.A.T.J.*

Wifely Person's Tip O' the Day
 Be of good cheer and all that jazz!

Please feel free to leave birthday wishes as comments!


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Wifely Pollyanna says.....

Hayley Mills as Pollyanna - 1960
  1. You don’t jump to conclusions unless there is a pre-existing condition that provides a basis for the leap. These things just don’t fall outta the sky. You don’t rush to judgment unless there’s enough circumstantial evidence for large numbers of people to buy into that judgment. It doesn’t make it right, but it should make you take a harder look as to why people automatically think in that direction. 

2.     A smoking gun is pretty good piece of circumstantial evidence. Obviously the gun has been recently fired. Almost as obvious is the perception that the hand holding the gun owns the finger that pulled the trigger. But a perception is not a fact, and just because the hand holding the gun happens to be yours, that you are the shooter is not a foregone conclusion. There is always that possibility, albeit slim, that you are not the shooter. In other words, even if the smoke’s curling right up from the barrel, do your homework. What you think you see isn't necessarily real.
3.     There will always be mentally ill people who do violent things. The Tucson shooter was, according to any number of sources, mentally ill, and seems not to be following any particular political action plan. He joins the ranks of guys like John Hinkley and Mark David Chapman who were just plain loony.  We have to recognize that lunatics exist and will always exist. We have to take the lunacy factor into account and understand that really nutty things…like shooting the President to impress Jodie Foster or shooting up a supermarket…happen no matter what precautions we take.
4.     You don’t use terms you don’t understand. If you are unfamiliar with a phrase that appears in a speech someone hands you, look it up. Make sure that the writer’s understanding matches your understanding and that both match the accepted definition. Phrases like “blood libel” or “pound of flesh” may be generally misused, but if you’re planning on using one in a major speech, get it right.  Ms Palin, you and your staff may think no one notices but we do and this makes you look ignorant, if not downright stupid. 
5.     If one wants to pursue a racist agenda, please find another country in which to do it. If one can’t get past the fact that the President of the United States happens to be half-black, let me remind you he is also half-white. If this is an issue for you, you need to live someplace else. The President of the United States could be purple with pink polka-dots. No one with half a functioning brain should care what color he…or she is. What we should care about is what comes out of his…or her mouth. 
© 2011, Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOONS
  6. By the way, the person who is elected President of the United States IS the president. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him...or her... or not. He…or she won. He…or she IS the President, and should be respected as such. This means that when the country faces a crises and the President speaks eloquently, you are permitted to acknowledge that he …or she did a good job. You get to say “I may not agree with your politics, but that was a good speech.” There are moments when the country needs kindness and congeniality; during a crisis, it’s okay to suspend politics as usual for the sake of national healing.    
7.  And lastly, if you are recognized as a leader, whether it's a team leader, a class leader, a political leader, or even a dog leader, do everyone a favor and lead by example. If people are looking to you for clues, give them clues you'd want your mother and grandmother to hear about.  Measure you words, soothe the angry, calm the emotional, and above all, be a square shooter. No spin, no hyperbole, no lies. Just the facts; just give us the facts. We can take it from there.
Wifely Person Tip o' the Week
If you were born in Hawaii after August 21st, 1959,
you were born in the 50th State of the Union.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Language Matters

Contrary to what Professor Alan Gribben thinks, Americans understand that Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn over a hundred years ago when slavery was fresh in the nation's the mind and an entire race was beginning the long, arduous journey from slavery into freedom. It is fiction to think that we are not smart enough to know that the word “nigger” makes us uncomfortable. At the same time, it is fact that the word “nigger” is routinely used in African-American communities today.

Because of that schizophrenic affectation, Professor Alan Gribben has decided that children must be shielded from the word all together, and has replaced it with “slave” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. First of all, the words are not synonymous. Secondly,  Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, writing from a 19th century perspective, was living during a time when the use of “nigger” was commonplace and unquestioned. He was not Nostradamus, able to see into the future and predict political correctness. He wrote what he saw, heard, and experienced. He did not whitewash the relationship between Huck and Jim; Jim's status as a runaway slave is central to the novel. Huck struggles with what to do and his decision not to betray Jim is radical for its time. Changing the language damages the author’s intent; Twain wrote what he meant and meant what he wrote. There is no apologia. His carefully constructed novel withstands the test of time. Were he alive today, he would be fuming that this affront is tantamount to literary treason.

Exactly what lesson are you teaching the children, anyway? That it’s okay to change the facts of history if they’re too hard to digest? Do that, and you are denying kids an overview of the growth of a nation still in search of philosophical maturity. Change the words, and you arrest their development as human beings.
Mr. Clemens - c. 1884

To change the word “nigger” to “slave” is to change the voice of the novel itself; it alters its place in time, and implies that Americans are too stupid to understand the difference between life 1874, when the novel was published, and life in 2011.

And if you think that, you probably don’t like the idea of a rickety ol’ raft on the river. Is it okay, then, to call it a pontoon or a two-man-catamaran?   By the way, how ‘bout we tell children we sent Japanese-Americans to summer camp so they could go live away from the city’s heat and have fun growing vegetables during World War II?  You could also say that the German’s sent the Jews to culture camp, but you may be at a loss to explain what happened to Anne Frank after the Gestapo paid a social call on the secret annex.

If you are teaching kids that they’re too stupid to understand the notion of context, you end up creating fiction via fiction. The historical perspective is lost, and at the same time, the student is absolved of the need to comprehend the depth and breadth of societal change.

If you subscribe to this theory of education, you are an active participant in the dumbing down of America. Period. End of discussion.

Mark Twain's Tip o'the Week
Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
If the kid is too young to understand the use of a word in context,
the kid is too young to read the book.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yes, We Have No Pajamas

It was an innocent, friendly kind of social question: What did you get for Christmas? There was no intent to mock, tease, or otherwise deride anything about said gift. But I could not help but howl when he told me “jammies …and flannel sheets with snowmen on them.” 

I couldn't stop myself. I asked if the jammies had feet. No, they did not. Well, that’s somewhat of a relief. My next thought was to ask if the jammies are flannel, (they are) and  then whether warn him about the Velcro Effect. I did. But the  vision of a grown man in flannel pajamas velcro'd between flannel snowman sheets just danced in my head.

I felt terrible about thinking these thoughts and decided instead that further research was required.

With the help of a colleague, I narrowed the term “pajamas” to mean a 2-piece ensemble made of either broadcloth or flannel that comes in a single package. The top should have buttons, and the bottom either an elastic or drawstring waistband. In other words, that which one imagines when one says “pajamas.” For the sake of Minnesota, thermal pajamas were included but excluded from this most scientific sampling were Joe Boxer flannel pants paired with unassociated t-shirts and/or scrubs.

Okay, the results are in. Almost 60 guys from all over the country were asked whether or not they wore pajamas to bed; of those polled, only 3 admitted to wearing pajamas, and one of those specified thermals in winter only. Otherwise, no way.  The rest of them had great answers like, “Not since I was ten,” or “Does a big t-shirt count?”

Every time I asked the question either in person or over the phone, there was this kind of shnorkly guffaw, like I couldn’t possibly be asking this question. And the routinely incredulous “no” made me wonder if I was, perhaps, asking something excessively weird. Apparently yes.

So, I began running a secondary survey for women, asking, “Are pajamas sexy on men?”  This was an interesting question and I had no idea what the response would be. Other than a single, “Only if George Clooney is in them, and even then it’s kinda iffy,” crack, without exception, the answer was no.

Moms report sons stop wearing pajamas around the age of 9, with pjs being replaced by  over-sized sports jerseys and later on, with weird t-shirts.  Some wives reported the sport jersey thing has carried over into adulthood, especially during football season.

Does any of this mean anything? I’m not sure, but I do think it speaks to a greater overall trend toward informality. Pajamas imply some kind of structure; one wears them specifically when one goes to bed, the same way one wears a tuxedo to a black-tie event. One does not take the trash out in one’s pajamas. And these days, one does not loll about in them unless one is called “Hef.” A haphazard collection of boxers, flannel pants, and decorated t-shirts signals an attitude of would-be cultural defiance. One may select the pattern of flannel pants, but more time was probably spent picking out just the right KISS t-shirt at that concert 20 years ago. 

And should you dare to ask what women do find sexy, the answer is “clean and commando.”  Really; I kid you not. 32 women were asked, and 27 of them went with the buck naked option. The other 5 said, “bottoms” as long as the top was buff.  Oddly, buffness was not an in-the-buff requirement. Go figure.

Wifely Person Tip o’the Week
There truly are times when less is more;
other times, not so much.